Mayor-elect Daniel Biss' statement today about Evanston's Reparations Restorative Housing Program.

City Council will vote tomorrow night. "Tomorrow evening, Evanston’s City Council is slated to vote on whether to authorize the implementation of the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, which would constitute the expenditure of the first $400,000 of our Local Reparations Fund. Given the historic nature of this vote -- not to mention some controversy that has arisen on this subject -- I have been asked to share my thoughts on the matter. Almost all residents I have spoken with are proud of Evanston’s pathbreaking role on reparations. I think that they would all like to see us move forward with a successful program that repairs the harm done by our City and spurs other communities, as well as the federal government, to do even more.


That said, while most people who have contacted me support the specific resolution that will be before Council tomorrow evening, not all do. Some opponents believe that the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program was put together with insufficient public input. Others are concerned that $400,000 in housing-focused grants of $25,000 each is too small a sum, for too narrow a purpose, to make any real difference. And others believe that it is simply wrong to use the word “reparations” to describe a housing program rather than a system of direct cash payments.

Let me be very clear: the last thing that Black Evanstonians need is for me, a white man, to dictate what does and does not constitute true reparations. There is a robust discussion in our community about this question, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen to many different people express different views on it. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I hope this discussion will continue and I intend to continue listening and learning. But for now it’s safe to say that a significant portion of Evanston’s Black community believes that a housing program like the one that’s been proposed is a genuine example of reparations -- as do several of the most active and respected national organizations that advocate for reparations.

As for the concern about public input into the design of the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, I am a firm believer that we can always do a better job of including every voice in our City’s planning processes. That said, this process has been notably transparent, with numerous public meetings and many opportunities for input and engagement. Though the Reparations Subcommittee has been moving in the direction of the current proposal for many months, most opposition materialized extremely recently.

That strikes me as perfectly natural! As the vote approaches and the Program gets closer to implementation, people tend to engage more. That’s why the small size of this first pool of money, which has been characterized by some as a weakness, is in my opinion a great strength. The Reparations Subcommittee did a tremendous amount of work, with significant public input, to put together a Program that, in my opinion, is well-designed and makes sense. It will spend 4% of the $10,000,000 already allocated for reparations in Evanston.

If the vote passes tomorrow, our community will still have the responsibility of spending the other 96% of the promised reparations dollars. Now that more people are engaged in discussion about what is the best and most appropriate way to spend these resources, we have an opportunity to incorporate more voices into the process by which that 96% will be spent. As mayor, I will have a significant role to play in the establishment of a mechanism by which that decision gets made, and I am fully committed to including all voices at that table.

Reparations is a huge, difficult, and complex project that seeks to address the damage done by white supremacy, one of the great prolonged evils in human history. It will not be “solved” on the first try. On the contrary, we will have to try many different approaches, listen with an open mind to learn from what works and what needs to be changed, and adjust our strategy on an ongoing basis.

If the City Council passes the reparations resolution before them tomorrow night, we will have the opportunity to begin that process. If they vote it down, we will have established the precedent that without unanimity we are unwilling to take a step forward, even on this urgent and complex issue.

For that reason, if I were a member of City Council, I would vote in support of Resolution 37-R-27. I very much hope that it passes. Regardless of whether it does, as mayor you can count on me to be a strong and vocal supporter of Evanston’s commitment to reparations, and a respectful listener who lifts up all voices and views on this difficult topic.

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